Friday, February 27, 2009

Nebula Awards 2008 Final Ballot

Nebula Awards® 2008 Final Ballot

SFWA is proud to announce the nominees for the 2008 Nebula Awards. The awards will be presented at the 2009 Nebula Awards® Weekend, April 24-26,2009 in Los Angeles, California. For more information on the awards and the Nebulas Weekend, please see


Little Brother - Doctorow, Cory
Powers - Le Guin, Ursula K.
Cauldron - McDevitt, Jack
Brasyl - McDonald, Ian
Making Money - Pratchett, Terry
Superpowers - Schwartz, David J.

The Spacetime Pool - Asaro, Catherine
Dark Heaven - Benford, Gregory
Dangerous Space - Eskridge, Kelley
The Political Prisoner - Finlay, Charles Coleman
The Duke in His Castle - Nazarian, Vera

If Angels Fight - Bowes, Richard
The Ray Gun: A Love Story - Gardner, James Alan
Dark Rooms - Goldstein, Lisa
Pride and Prometheus - Kessel, John
Night Wind - Rosenblum, Mary
Baby Doll - Sinisalo, Johanna
Kaleidoscope - Wentworth, K.D.

Short Stories
The Button Bin - Allen, Mike
The Dreaming Wind - Ford, Jeffrey
Trophy Wives - Hoffman, Nina Kiriki
26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss - Johnson, Kij
The Tomb Wife - Jones, Gwyneth
Don't Stop - Kelly, James Patrick
Mars: A Traveler's Guide - Nestvold, Ruth

Click on the article title for complete listing

Thursday, February 26, 2009

RIP: Philip José Farmer

Philip José Farmer passed away peacefully in his sleep in the early hours of February 26th.

From Farmer's official site:
  • He will be missed greatly by his wife Bette, his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, friends and countless fans around the world.
  • January 26, 1918 - February 25, 2009. R.I.P.
My exposure to P.J. Farmer came in the form of his "River World" books. Maybe not in the same league of Asimov's Foundation series, Farmer's creation was awe inspiring in its scope and cast of characters. The very idea of Sam Clemens traveling on a riverboat with a gigantipithicus is an image that will be with me always.

Review: Probability Angels Joseph Devon

Probability Angels Joseph Devon
275 pp pb

available at Amazon here

I was all set to dismiss Joseph Devon's Probability Angels as one of those quasi made up fringe science books that spout nonsense theory and with this one I jokingly said to myself more like improbability is more likely. Because what I thought I had was basically ghosts and angels and demons fighting it out with humanity in the middle. But in truth what I really had was just Devon's canvas with some primer coat. When he started to lay on another layer and highlights I started to see that I had something much more complex. Maybe a mirror of our world or our world with the blinders off.... Hard to pin down but intriguing none the less.

What if there was an in between world running right beside our own. A world that touches our own in any of the dimensions that the inhabitants need it to. A world where reality is open to interpretation. What if this dimension was populated by beings that once lived in our world, were once human, but now are more. And what if these beings reason for being was to see all the possibilities in a person's life and choose to “push” the people they have chosen to be more than they would have been if left to their own devices. What if these pushes where the bumps, manias, drives, delusions, insights, adversities that we have come to feel are part of normal life? What if the most notables in human history like Eisenstein, Newton, Bach, Da Vinci - and on - back through the millennium, were all products of influences by these shadowy beings.

Good vs evil? Angels fighting demons? Maybe it's your point of view?

Maybe that is what makes Devon's Probability Angels so intriguing. Another layer is painted on or one is pealed off and you feel like you have been shown the inner workings of the big clock. With all this going on, the temptation is to created a cast of characters to match the scope. Devon has resisted, keeping the players small enough so you can empathize with them. Sometimes the action is completely off “screen”, happening somewhere else. Other times Devon has us ride along as the action builds to a point that reality goes off like a fourth of July firework with everything happening at once.

Probability Angels story line is at times like a two year old filly trying to get it own head and you can feel that Devon is grimly hanging on. However the risks he takes in plot devices pays off in ways that I haven't seen since Sam Delaney's Dhalgren. Sometimes you're wondering what's going on or where's the plot going, but Devon doesn't let either boil too long and will give you something to get a toe hold or a hand hold on.

Probability Angels is at times mystical and full of the feelings of Eastern mysticism. Then other times hard edged and emotional, but never boring.

Imaging combining Highlander with Foundation and you start getting a feel for the book. A shadowy organization steering humanity out of the darkness – populated with “immortal” beings who's motivation is not always clear. There....have I confused you enough yet?..

Probability Angels is not for everyone, especially if you like hard - extrapolated science fiction. But if you like thought provoking speculative fiction, wow, you couldn't ask for a better fit!

Check out Joseph Devon's web site here

Monday, February 23, 2009

comment: Are Robot Morals Needed?

Ok, this is really getting out of control! What am I talking about? Well that op-ed piece that it seems EVERYONE has picked up on.

What's got everyone jumping on the band-wagon? Well it's the article that calls for a code of behavior, much like Asimov's 3 laws, that would keep a robot from running amok and doing who knows what unspeakable horrors to the human race - as in the movie "I Robot" (I know - it was trash, but people bought into it)

Are we all on the same page here? Good! Because someone out there needs a serious reality check!

Smart bombs, autonomous drones and artificial intelligence are all together none of the sort. Today's robotic systems and devices are no more complicated than throwing a light switch. Offs and ons people - period. Today's devices are the sum of their parts and programming. If said light switch, when thrown, give you a nasty jolt, you do not inquire as to its' morals or lack there-of, no, you buy another switch or repair the old one. Today's robots have on thing better than the switch, a way to save and repeat thousands of on and off requests. Called a program. If these machines fail to carry out their prerequisite ons and offs, the first thing you do is check the hardware and then debug the software. You do not give it a good talking to.

We are many many years away from the point when the switch, in a moment of moral quandary, wonders at its lot in life or the ramifications of electrocuting some ner-do-well hell bent on finding out what's inside.

The time when a robot can truly question its' reason for existence or why it's not a good idea to rip off someones arm because of a perceived slight, is still in the very far future, if it ever truly happens at all. Humans still can not tell the difference between hardware and software in themselves, let alone creating it in another. I think it's very telling when one of these drones drops a 500 pounder in the middle of a crowded square, and people call for robotic moral for the devices and never call for an accounting the ones truly responsible and most likely in need of a moral compass - the manufacturers and programmers.

for a more in depth article on robotic behaviors - click Times Online's article

Sunday, February 22, 2009

AntipodeanSF issue 129 is online

Nuke editor of AntipodeanSF online magazine writes to tell me that issue 129 of his most excellent flash fiction magazine is now available by clicking on the antipodeanSF link or the article title. Here is a list of the stories in the newest issue. Enjoy

Story With A Moral By J D Brames
Sheila was not thinking of that scene in Psycho, and she wasn't soaping herself up all sexylike, horror-style, through which white robes are soon illustrated arterial red.

The Bet And The Body By Liam Thorpe
"Shut up and push," I said, shoving all my weight against the large, carved stone.

An Ancient Malice Rising By Steve Duffy
As the sun set over the mountains, both rays and shadows lengthened. A chill set in, not like any other felt in living memory, at least not in any average living memory.

The Glass Man By Jan Napier
He didn't need gurus or fakirs to help him see the light. Illumination was his for free.

A Night In Caliet By Mick Dawson
A lone figure crouched on the edge of an orphanage rooftop peering into the street.

The Man Who Did Not Dream By Shaun A Saunders
"I die every night, and I am reborn every morning," said Charlie. "I never dream."

High School Hunt By Mark Farrugia
In each hand THE BOY brandished a small pistol.

Best Ever By Houston Dunleavy
She'd been good � perhaps the best he'd ever had. Foluke had paid all his spare skins to spend an hour with the new MGW (More Genuine Woman) 750 (the size of her breasts in Interplanetary Standard Units).

Predator Tank By Liz Simmonds
Nick and I sat in the auditorium. The light from the ultraplast fish tank cast a comforting glow on our faces as we talked. We nibbled on the last of the snacks we had brought from home.

Say The Word By Felicity Dowker
I'll bet you don't know what the most deadly word in the English language is.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bid on chance to meet Star Trek 11 movie cast

Adam Scharfberg of just wrote me to let fans of Beam me up know about a unique oportunity to meet and mingle with the cast of the newest Star Trek movie.

Here is what Adam Scharfbert wrote:
  • Meet the Stars with 2 Tix to the Star Trek Premiere & After Party in LA on May 5, 2009 Be one of the first to see the next edition in the film series version of hit television show, Star Trek! The winning bidder and a guest will score tickets to the premiere of Star Trek and after-party passes! Don't forget, you'll meet some of the talented cast!
  • The movie features Chris Pine as James T. Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, John Cho as Hikaru Sulu and Eric Bana as Nero, the villain for the film.
  • The film takes a peak at the early days of Captain James T. Kirk and his fellow USS Enterprise crew members.
  • The 2009 film is the eleventh entry in the Star Trek film series, based on the franchise created by Gene Roddenberry. In April 2006, after several years of rumor and speculation, Paramount Pictures announced that the film would be produced by Lost co-creators J. J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof.
  • Bid now for this incredible opportunity to see the latest from the United Federation of Planets!

Proceeds benefit the Alzheimer’s Association.

Adam Scharfberg

Review: Cryptic by Jack McDevitt

Jack McDevitt
Subterranean Press
592 pages Limited Trade Hardcover

I was really excited when I received Jack McDevitt's new collection of stories titled Cryptic from Subterranean Press. It's no mystery that I am a serious McDevitt fan. Jack was one of the first authors that I approached for stories when I started doing Beam Me Up on WRFR. One of the first stories I did was the wonderful heart breaking story "Promises to Keep". What makes the story work is that everything is a struggle as it would be in real life. The equipment is aging, the mission is underfunded, there is little public support and everyone has strengths and weaknesses. The characters in this story are so three dimensional and their motivation is so believable that your easily and quickly drawn into the story. This story alone makes the book worthwhile. The next story that caught my eye for reading was "Report From the Rear" a caustic and telling yarn that puts a wild spin on wagging the dog idea. When the need for up to date news outstrips the ability to obtain it in a timely fashion. Then I found "Tyger" which plays with reality, creation and just about everything else you think is "real". And the final story that I read on Beam Me Up from this collection is the award nominated "Henry James, this ones for you" asks the question what would happen if a programmer managed to pull of the stunt of a program that writes award winning works?

What you soon find out about Jack McDevitt is that he is a master at creating believable characters. What's more is the fact that Jack is willing and prepared to torture his creations to failure while you watch and makes it impossible to look away. In Promises, everyone is flawed, everyone has an agenda but in the end you feel like you've been gut punched. I couldn't get this story or the characters out of my head for years....I actually found myself thinking "How long can she hold out?"

If the rest of the book was slock and the only good stories were these....It would be worth the money. And you know that the rest of the book is every bit as good as the stories I mentioned. So that makes it a great value.

Cryptic is well worth checking out, beg, borrow, buy or well we won't go there...but yeah, you really will enjoy this book...very very much.

Cryptic Subterranean Press

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Negative Gravity Ring on the Dark Side of the Moon

No it's not a Pink Floyd remix but a detailed study by the Japanese SELENE mission probing the far side of the moon. Now before you get all wigged out about antigravity on the moon "negative anomaly" simply means that there's less gravity than average.

From the article:
  • It seems that the two sides of the moon have evolved differently since their formation, with the far side forming at cooler temperatures and remaining stiffer while the Earth side has been modified at higher temperatures and for longer. This information is extremely important for theories on the formation of the moon, of which the current favorite is the "Giant Impact" hypothesis.
  • The Giant Impact idea is that four and a half billion years ago a planet the size of Mars rammed Earth, kicking enough debris into orbit to accrete into an entirely new body.
More info in the DailyGalaxy blog article

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Elmo's Hands do WHAT?!

Ok, not science fiction, but after reading about burning TM Elmo last week well I have been umm sensitive to Elmo weirdness. So you can imagine my, well I am not to sure what my reaction was here. Anyway, it seems the TME people have build some human sized hands that can ummm tickle you while Elmo laughs. I am NOT making this up. read the article here. Yep "tickle" yourself with Elmo's hands and he laughs manically. And its like the guys writing the article knew where my mind was going because they write:
  • it's a little too creepy for that, unless you really, really enjoy Elmo's voice
Yeah, maybe they're right...Elmo laughing hands I watched the video - even creepier now

more here

Bad Memories? Take a Pill!

Oh brave new world....

Shaun Saunders sent in an article from BBC News documenting a startling side effect to a common heart medication.

From the article:
  • Dutch investigators believe beta-blocker drugs could help people suffering from the emotional after-effects of traumatic experiences. They believe these heart medications alters how memories are recalled.
  • In the study, the researchers artificially created a fearful memory by associating pictures of spiders with a mild electric shock delivered to the wrists of the volunteers. A day later the volunteers were split into two groups - one was given the beta blocker propranolol and the other a dummy drug before both were shown the same pictures again. The group that had taken beta blockers showed less fear than the group that had taken the placebo pill. The following day, once the drug was out of their system, the volunteers were retested. Once again, those who had taken the beta blocker were less startled by the images.

British researchers however are concerned about the ethics involved in such a study - worrying that the procedure might alter "good" memories as well. Memories are used by the brain to form basic behavioral responses, even in early learning environments. The concern is that toying with the preliminary phase of the process may have unforeseen consequences later on.

Read more of this article click here

Rat Power: Nanogenerators Produce Electricity from Running Rodents

Nanotech Pied Pipers? “...we have demonstrated ways to convert even irregular biomechanical energy into electricity,” said Zhong Lin Wang, a Regent’s professor in the Georgia Tech School of Materials Science and Engineering. “This technology can convert any mechanical disturbance into electrical energy.”

The demonstrations of harnessing biomechanical energy to produce electricity were reported February 11 in the online version of the American Chemical Society journal Nano Letters. The research was supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Air Force, and the Emory-Georgia Tech Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence.

The study demonstrates that nanogenerators – which Wang’s team has been developing since 2005 – can be driven by irregular mechanical motion, such as the vibration of vocal cords, flapping of a flag in the breeze, tapping of fingers or hamsters running on exercise wheels. Scavenging such low-frequency energy from irregular motion is significant because much biomechanical energy is variable, unlike the regular mechanical motion used to generate most large-scale electricity today. Complete story

Georgia tech image

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The World Won't End in 2012 say Neil DeGrasse

You love him - you hate him - whatever, he is very entertaining. See here his reaction to the question of 2012

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Positronic - no Nanocarbon - possible

Science Daily has a great article concerning which direction scientists are taking to creating synthetic cortex. USC electrical engineering professor Alice Parker is doing research on Nanocarbon modeling, which may be the next step toward emulating human brain function. studying the behavior of cortical neurons - but, as Parker puts it, with approximately 100 billion neurons in the human cortex and approximately 60 trillion synaptic connections, the brain is massively interconnected, making the task of unraveling a neuron’s electrical circuitry quite complicated. With conventional electronics, the shear size of the build makes it infeasible and the cost of powering such a construct would be prohibitive, nanocarbon addresses both problems.

Ultimately, the researchers hope to answer one question: Will science ever be able to construct an artificial brain of reasonable size and cost that exhibits almost real-time behavior?

<- science daily article ->

2009 Arthur C. Clarke Award long list submissions

In a break with tradition, for the first time I can remember, the powers that be at the Arthur C. Clarke award have released the long list submissions for the, as the Wikipedia puts it:
  • The Arthur C. Clarke Award is a British award given for the best science fiction novel first published in the United Kingdom during the previous year. The award was established with a grant from Arthur C. Clarke and the first prize was awarded in 1987.

Torque Control
was granted this unparalleled honer

The Ashes of Worlds by Kevin J Anderson (Simon & Schuster)
The Line War by Neal Asher (Tor)
The Heritage by Will Ashon (Faber & Faber)
Man in the Dark by Paul Auster (Faber & Faber)
Neuropath by Scott Bakker (Gollancz)
Matter by Iain M Banks (Orbit)
Flood by Stephen Baxter (Gollancz)
Weaver by Stephen Baxter (Gollancz)
City at the End of Time by Greg Bear (Gollancz)
Kethani by Eric Brown (Solaris)
Necropath by Eric Brown (Solaris)
Sputnik Caledonia by Andrew Crumey (Picador)
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (HarperCollins)
Incandescence by Greg Egan (Gollancz)
Infoquake by David Louis Edelman (Solaris)
The Broken World by Tim Etchells (William Heinemann)
Omega by Christopher Evans (PS Publishing)
Blonde Roots by Bernadine Evaristo (Hamish Hamilton)
Principles of Angels by Jaine Fenn (Gollancz)
Eve: The Empyrean Age by Tony Gonzales (Gollancz)
The Temporal Void by Peter F Hamilton (Macmillan)
The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway (William Heinemann)
Template by Matthew Hughes (PS Publishing)
The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt (Harvill Secker)
Song of Time by Ian R MacLeod (PS Publishing)
The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod (Orbit)
The Affinity Bridge by George Mann (Snowbooks)
The Quiet War by Paul McAuley (Gollancz)
Dark Blood by John Meaney (Gollancz)
The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan (Gollancz)
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Walker)
Debatable Space by Philip Palmer (Orbit)
House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds (Gollancz)
Swiftly by Adam Roberts (Gollancz)
Going Under by Justina Robson (Gollancz)
The Last Colony by John Scalzi (Tor)
DogFellow’s Ghost by Gavin Smith (Macmillan)
Anathem by Neal Stephenson (Atlantic)
The Dog of the North by Tim Stretton (Macmillan)
Halting State by Charles Stross (Orbit)
Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross (Orbit)
The Margarets by Sheri S Tepper (Gollancz)
Blue War by Jeffrey Thomas (Solaris)
Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber (Tor)
Martin Martin’s on the Other Side by Mark Wernham (Jonathan Cape)
Winterstrike by Liz Williams (Tor)

US & Russian Sats collide

In a first ever, a defunct Russian military satellite and a U.S. Iridium satellite, collided 500 miles over Siberia on Tuesday. Iridium, based in Bethesda, Maryland, denied that it was responsible for the crash, But Igor Lisov, a prominent Russian space expert, said Thursday he did not understand why NASA's debris experts and Iridium had failed to prevent the collision, since the Iridium satellite was active and its orbit could be adjusted.

There is no immediate risk to the international space station and the debris also poses no threat to the space shuttle set to launch Feb. 22.

Orbital debris is now the biggest threat to a space shuttle in flight. There are roughly 17,000 pieces of manmade debris, at least 4 inches in size, orbiting Earth, according to NASA.

Thanks to Nelson for the heads up

Where is all the cool future stuff we were suppose to have by now?

Courtney points out an article in Topless Robot that has a list of seven very cool tech goodies that we were suppose to have by now - according to the SF movies.

Here is the list as they posted it. Go to the article itself to read the details:

7) Exo-Suits, due 2005 from Transformers: The Movie
A thought-controlled mechanical outfit that not only converts into an armed mini car, it also allows you to breathe in space while enhancing your strength and agility.

6) Time Travel, due 2004 from Timecop
Just about says it all, forward, backwards...changing stuff

5) 360 Degree Running Tracks, due 2001 from 2001
Don't quite understand the allure of this one buuuuut. Who knows...running on a track that goes upside down....really don't interest me....oh but we DO have that in a way or did... Skylab people?

4) Full-Blown Virtual Reality, due 1999 from Strange Days
This is pretty much a no show except for a couple of limited venues in Disney parks and playing with cumbersome gloves and helmets. Full sensory they ain't.

3) Walled-Off Cities as Prisons, due 1997 from Escape from New York
Hey, they didn't even convince me when the movie came out. Pure excapism, I don't know about you but I never once suspended belief when it came to New York city as a mega prison....

2) Self-Aware Machinery, due 1997 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day
I think the article says it all here: With cell phones that malfunction at the slightest hint of rain, laptops possessing fruit fly life spans and misbehaving Blackberries that make emails disappear faster than mob informants, we could all use some of that super advanced Cyberdyne technology right about now!

1) Telescreens, due 1984 from 1984
Now if you're following some of the science and tech we have been posting for the last couple of years you start to get the idea that this stuff is WAY possible withing the next few year and every bit as possibly abused as in 1984...Late yes, possible? Oh you betcha!

The original story has some cool videos and comments. Take a jaunt over and check out 7 Sci-Fi Inventions That Are Way Past Due on Topless Robot

ROV stretcher? And Flying to Boot!

Oh yeah, that's what I wrote, a stretcher that can rescue people that is not only remotely controlled but can also fly over the ground on a cushion of air, making it possible to transverse any type of terrain. The stretcher can take off and land vertically, hover and fly up to an altitude of 10k feet. As you can see in the concept art, it is in no way a helicopter, but instead a souped up hover-craft.

From the article:
  • Called the Med-Evacuation Aerial Vehicle, it was developed by Israeli scientists as an unmanned rescue device to help retrieve soldiers injured in war zones without putting the lives of others at risk.
  • But ... it is also designed for use in accidents, where ambulances or helicopters cannot gain access to injured victims....
Prototypes are already being tested! The future is indeed stranger than we can imagine.

<- High flying stretcher article ->

Thanks to Shaun Saunders for the article

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

New Stimulus Package - Big Brother or MallCity?

Shaun just sent in an article he is really fired up about from Natural News: He equates it to
MallCity plain and simple, and with this - well you have to give him his dues. Here is why.

Straight from the article:
  • The new $800 billion economic stimulus bill contains some striking new "Big Brother" health care language that should give pause to all freedom-loving Americans. For starters, the bill requires the electronic tracking of the medical records of all Americans. All your private medical data will be stored in a government database, including your history of disease, pharmaceutical treatments, surgeries and even emergency room visits.
Whoooooooooh! How did this slide through huh? Now I am not naive here, anyone who has had anything medical done with the funding from the government HAS to know that there is some sort of government record kept. But this is a would different coat of paint.... this is everyone!

Want more?
  • All U.S. doctors will now be stripped of autonomy and forced to follow the medical treatment guidelines dictated by the government.
HUH? WTF! oh and deviation means being penalized by the government! Now 1984 is maybe a stretch but I think not, but it SURE is another dead on hit by Dr. Saunders and MallCity.

If you think I am making this up, just check out the article...yeah it might be a bit to the right, but it's EXACTLY what Shaun predicted would happen.

<- Natural News article ->

Klingon Night School?

Just in case you thought you had seen it all as far as Star Trek was concerned....How bout an old lady kickin some serious ass with a Bat'leth?

Thanks to IO9 for this great find.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

February 8, 1828 Jules Verne's Birthday

Make Magazine pointed out today that Jules Verne was born February 8th 1829 in Nantes, France. The article points out, and I have tried to emulate:
  • Verne pioneered, and much of the sci-fi to follow has emulated, was writing about the fantastic upon a foundation of real science and engineering.
I have stated all along that true hard core science fiction has to have a grounding in science to make it believable.

Also Make describes just how right Wells got an Apollo moon trip in his story From the Earth to the Moon. Its worth popping over to the make site to check out the article.

Jules Verne wiki

Friday, February 06, 2009

What is the Difference Between Dark Matter & Dark Energy?

Now there is the 10 thousand dollar question of the day... ain't it. I will admit to being confused by the difference myself. That is what made this article in The Daily Galaxy so very interesting.

As it sits right now, Only 4% of the stuff that makes up the universe is stuff we understand. So what is the other 96%? Well two names keep coming up and what confuses me is the fact that even learnered people use the two labels interchangeably - dark matter and dark energy.

From the article:
  • ...astronomers at the University of St Andrews are attempting to “simplify the dark side of the universe”. They say the two most mysterious constituents in the universe are actually the same thing.
Hummm somehow that doesn't seem to clear anything up - but it would seem dark matter and its counterpart dark energy are so closely intertwined that it’s not clear that they’re even two different materials, but instead, two sides so to speak of the same coin.

What really makes the whole argument strange is the 4% we see might in fact be all the matter that there is in the universe. Some scientists say that many of the new findings may instead point to a reinterpretation of the dark component as a modification of the law of gravity rather than particles or energy.

That clear things up for you? No?

Read the complete Daily Galaxy article
. It really is indepth and has a wealth of solid information.

Unnatural Selection

From Shaun Saunders comes a very interesting article in New Scientist:
Pretty strong statement by any definition. So just exactly are they talking about. Well at present, if you build a robotic device and then add on some other ability, you wind up having to retool and recode the whole system. The device on it's own can not make the adjustments to deal with environmental and structural changes. But MacLeod has added a wrinkle. The robot's software "brain" can automatically grows in size and complexity as its physical body develops, this is very much how biological life evolved over million of years. Macleod's robot's brain assigns new clusters of "neurons" to adapt to new additions to its body. In effect mimicking life.

Up to this point robotic scientists have used a try it, fail, succeed system for robot learning which is often slow and time consuming. MacLeod's team took this idea a step further, however, and developed an incremental evolutionary algorithm (IEA) capable of adding new parts to its robot brain over time. This new system can learn and adapt to changes and relearn functions by adding on "brains" to deal with the changes.

Read the complete New Scientist article

Thursday, February 05, 2009

How much for the Death Start?

I love people that have way to much free time on their hands and apply that time to well, somewhat less than useful pursuits. For example, I was reading in Gizmodo about Ryszard Gold who determined what it would cost in 2008 dollars to build and supply the Star Wars "Death Star"

There's way more numbers there than I want to copy here, but suffice it to say that if you had a spare 15.6 septillion you could have one of these bad boys for your very own.

How much is 15.6 septillion? Well according to the article:
  • that's a whooping 1.4 trillion times the current US Debt. Or a sightly more meaningful number: 124 trillion years of war in Iraq.

Well for a giggle, here is the link with all the numbers...It really is quite an exercise.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A step closer to quantum nano computers

Barry sends in a very interesting article from the Edmonton Journal concerning the future of computers.

Drastically smaller and more energy efficient computers are much closer now thanks to a breakthrough by scientists at Edmonton's National Institute for Nanotechnology.

According to the article, scientists there:
  • (have) invented the world's smallest quantum dots, atom-sized devices capable of controlling electrons, using a fraction of the power of current computer technology.
This could lead to computer circuits that are 1000 time more energy efficient. Plus being 1000 times smaller than today's processors.

This efficiency is achieved by what is knows as the quantum wave effect. Present circuits are basically wires and switches that control the flow of electrons. Engineers have made these circuits are becoming smaller and smaller and are being asked to handle more and more electrons. This adds heat and effect efficiency. The new technology largely eliminates the need for electron flow and instead makes use of a wave-like phenomenon to transmit information.

Robert Wolkow, the lead scientist on this project, described a scenario in which two people are standing at opposite ends of a calm pool and one person drops a pebble in the water. A tiny wave eventually moves across the pool, sending information about the pebble to the other person. As you can see, if the pebble were an electron, it would not have to travel through a circuit to transmit information, but just create a wave that could be picked up at the end of the circuit.

By creating very small quantum dots (again the dots could be though of as pools with pebbles dropping in them) there is no need for the impracticable ultra cool temps that were previously needed. Also with ultra small dots, its much easier to control the electrons inside and make the output much more predictable.

<- complete article ->

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Smallest Exoplanet Discovered

ESA Space Science reports that COROT has discovered the smallest ever estra-solar planet.
From the article:
  • COROT-Exo-7b, is different: its diameter is less than twice that of Earth and it orbits its star once every 20 hours, and has a high (surface) temperature, between 1000 and 1500°C.
The composition of the planet is still is still under investigation.
  • It may be rocky like Earth and covered in liquid lava. It may also belong to a class of planets that are thought to be made up of water and rock in almost equal amounts. Given the high temperatures measured, the planet would be a very hot and humid place.
<- ESA ->

Monday, February 02, 2009

Scientists create LIVING artificial nerve networks

"They're made out of meat!"

No, (with all due apologies to Terry Bisson), not the humans. Their computers. Soon.

Because in the future, the interface between brain and artificial system will be based on nerve cells grown for that purpose. As recently featured on the cover of Nature Physics, Prof. Elisha Moses of the Physics of Complex Systems Department at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and his former research students Drs. Ofer Feinerman and Assaf Rotem, have taken the first step in this direction by creating circuits and logic gates made of live nerves grown in the lab.

Here's a summary what they did, according to their published results "Reliable neuronal logic devices from patterned hippocampal culture" Nat Phys 4, 12 (Dec 2008) Ofer Feinerman, Assaf Rotem, and Elisha Mose

The researchers grew a model one-dimensional nerve network – by getting the neurons to grow along a groove etched in a glass plate. They found they could stimulate these nerve cells using a magnetic field (as opposed to other systems of lab-grown neurons that only react to electricity), and that varying the width of the neuron stripe affected how well it would send signals.

The scientists took two thin stripes of around 100 axons each and created a logic gate similar to one in an electronic computer. Both of these “wires” were connected to a small number of nerve cells. When the cells received a signal along just one of the “wires,” the outcome was uncertain; but a signal sent along both “wires” simultaneously was assured of a response. This type of structure is known as an AND gate.

The next structure the team created was slightly more complex: Triangles fashioned from the neuron stripes were lined up in a row, point to rib, in a way that forced the axons to develop and send signals in one direction only. Several of these segmented shapes were then attached together in a loop to create a closed circuit. The regular relay of nerve signals around the circuit turned it into a sort of biological clock or pacemaker. Full article here

Image source: Nature Physics magazine.